Wednesday, 30 September 2009
It's rather telling that Gordon Brown's speech at the Labour Party conference in Brighton - almost certainly his last before a general election - has been overshadowed by The Sun's announcement that it will be withdrawing support for the party and henceforth be backing the Conservatives. The speech itself - which declared that Labour was "not done yet" - has drawn a mixed response from the press.
The Sun - Britain's highest circulating newspaper - has an almost Italianesque habit of switching sides; it was a staunch supporter of Thatcher during her reign in the 1980s and famously depicted Labour leader Neil Kinnock with a light bulb on the eve of the 1992 election. The paper later claimed it had won victory for the Tories by brazenly declaring "It's The Sun Wot Won It." Since that occasion it has, until now, backed Labour.
It's difficult to say what the effect of this announcement - clearly timed for maximum impact - will have. Naturally Tory leader David Cameron is ecstatic; he said he was "delighted" at the development and that he hoped to build the "widest coalition for change." Brown, on the other hand, has shrugged off the news by insisting "it is people that decide elections". Interestingly The Sun's Scottish counterparts - whilst also ditching Labour - have not followed the lead of their sister publication over the border in supporting the Tories, although nationalists looking for the surge of support for the SNP that they predict will be prompted by a Conservative victory may well be disappointed by the paper's refusal to support Alex Salmond's party.
But it is fascinating to see that the legal requirement of impartiality that applies to broadcasters holds no weight with the far more independent (and overwhelmingly right-wing) press. Whether it's in the best interests of democracy for this to continue to be the case is, however, far more debatable. It's unlikely that this latest piece of realpolitik from a popular tabloid will convince many that it is.